Get Real! Why Do I Feel So Bad Later When It Feels So Good At the Time?

Heather Corinna

To be right, sexual intimacy has to feel right before, during, and after. Taking a break from sexual activity to be sure of how you feel may be the right thing to do, no matter your age.

nikita asks:
I am a 23 year old female in a serious relationship for the first time. I knew my boyfriend for 3 months and have seeing him seriously for 4 months now. The two of us are clear on no sex before marriage, but are physically intimate. I love to kiss him and cuddle up with him. But, when it comes to touching each other sexually, it feels good at that moment, but later thinking about it all alone makes me feel so guilty and ashamed of letting go of myself that I start crying uncontrollably. Initially I assumed that this must be because I have never been physically intimate with anyone before, but even after 4 months this guilt has not subsided. I am not religious or anything, but I have always wanted to be intimate only after being sure of the guy. I do love my boyfriend and he’s sensitive and everything. I haven’t spoken to him about this since I don’t want him to feel he violated me in any way. Is there a way for me to get over this?

Heather replies:
What it sounds like, to me, is that whatever it is you’ve been doing sexually just isn’t something you feel okay with yet or good about right now. I get that it feels good at the time, but when I talk about sex feeling good, any kind of sexual activities at all, what I mean is sex feeling good before, during and afterwards; feeling good physically, intellectually and also emotionally.

It may be best to press pause on the sexual activities that are making you feel this way for now. In a word, if it doesn’t feel good — in every way — don’t do it. You don’t have to right now, or any time in your life it isn’t right for you and doesn’t leave you feeling good. If you’re feeling like you do because you’re in your twenties, please know you don’t. I understand that when you’re a later bloomer in this regard it can feel like you have to keep the same kind of time as people who started their sexual partnerships earlier, but you don’t. The good stuff keeps, and my personal feeling is that even if it involves holding out, you want to wait for the good stuff. What’s the value in doing anything that just doesn’t feel right?

I’d advise you do take a little break right now from sexual activities so that you can have some time to yourself, without being upset about a recent sexual encounter, and invest your energy in working out and through how you’re feeling. That time and space, without any internal or external pressure to have any kind of sex, or the emotional hangover you’ve been carrying around, should help you better figure out what it is that you want and need in order to feel good about your sex life, whatever it winds up looking like.

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Why might you be feeling the way you are? Maybe you’re not as "sure about the guy" as you need to be yet: you say being sure about your partner is important to you, as it is to many people. For some people, being involved romantically for a few months isn’t enough time to feel that kind of sexual sureness. Maybe you’re still really at kissing and cuddling and need some more time to get to more sexual activities, or need an extra level of commitment (or honesty!) in your relationship that’d make you feel more safe in all of this. I also want to invite you to take a look at the dynamics of the kinds of sex you’re having, and make sure it really all IS feeling good at the time. Sometimes sex can feel good physically, but not so much emotionally or intellectually. Maybe you need to make sure that whatever you are doing, or ways you or your partner are behaving during sex, do feel authentic to you and right for you. Sometimes, especially when people are new to sex, they can feel like they’re performing — such as by mimicking sex as they see it in media — rather than truly expressing themselves, and that can certainly feel ooky. Maybe your own sexual responses are freaking you out and you need to spend more time masturbating, rather than with partnered sex, so you can become more comfortable with them alone first.

Maybe you’re feeling like this, for example, because you need some extra aftercare with any sexual activities you two do, including having these kinds of emotional reactions in the presence of that partner so he can support you through them and give you comfort. It’s also a good idea to have more than one person to talk to honestly about your sexuality and sexual life, so maybe you also could stand to talk to a friend.

It’s so important to communicate openly and honestly with sexual partners. That’s the way to get to really good sex, to all the kinds of good sex can be. We can’t control anyone’s responses to our real feelings, but that’s okay. We don’t need to: each of us are responsible for managing our own feelings and responses, not those of others, nor should we expect others to do that for us. I think you can find a way to fill him in on how you’re feeling with sensitivity and kindness so that he can hear this without feeling that he "violated" you. He’s not responsible for you feeling one way or the other about your sexuality or the kinds of sex you two are having. No matter how great and sensitive any of us may be, that doesn’t always mean we should expect that sex will feel right to a partner we’re with: that’s something else we can’t control, we can only be responsive to the information, verbal and otherwise, a partner gives us about sex and what they wants and need. Your boyfriend’s general awesomeness and sensitivity doesn’t guarantee a positive sexual result for you both, because a partner being a wonderful person just isn’t all there is to sex being good or right for someone else.

What he is responsible for, just like you are with him, is obtaining your consent for anything you two do based on what you tell him and show him. If you’re not being truthful, or are hiding your feelings, that really is on you, not on him. And I think someone is more likely to feel they violated someone sexually who hides the range of their feelings than they are with someone openly shares them. If you’re not sharing these feelings with him, you’re also putting something of a cap on the level of intimacy you two are even having sexually. A lot of what makes sex intimate isn’t about people touching each others body parts or making those available to partners, but about people getting close emotionally and intellectually and opening up our hearts and minds. If we’re only telling partners the good stuff, the sexy stuff, or what we think they want to hear about our sexuality or sex with them, we’re cheating ourselves and those partners, especially if we do want sex to be about getting close. On top of all that? When you are grappling with such tough feelings, not sharing them with anyone, especially the people closest to you, tends to make them a whole lot tougher. Being open about them, getting them off your chest, filling him in and also then having him know this for the future, is likely to take a big weight off your shoulders. And I’d say it’s entirely possible that you could find that keeping these feelings secret and not sharing them with him is the sole missing piece in all of this.

I want to add that intercourse is not the only kind of sex there is. I say this a lot, but I’ll say it again. Oral sex is sex. Manual sex is sex. People rubbing their clothed bodies on someone else’s clothed body and getting off on it is sex. The things any of us do alone or with partners to seek out, explore, or achieve sexual pleasure and to enact our sexuality with others are all sex. So, if your values are such that you feel sex isn’t okay before marriage, it may well be that you feel some of what you’re doing is sex and you know that doesn’t fit your values. You can either choose to adjust what you’re doing, then, or to adjust your values. There’s no one right answer to which you do, because what our ideals, beliefs and values are, and what our commitment to them is, how important they are each of us, is incredibly personal. You’ll have to think about that yourself and draw your own conclusions, then make choices around them in alignment with those conclusions.

Since you express feelings of guilt, chances are good guilt is part of the issue. I don’t know you outside of what you have told me here, so I can’t say exactly why you might feel guilty, but I can tell you about some of the common reasons why people experience guilt around sex. A lot of people grew up with messages, covert or overt, around or about sex or their sexual bodies infused with shame, religious or otherwise, so they feel guilty having or enjoying sex. Plenty of people grow up with strong messages that there are right ways or wrong ways of having sex, having sex in certain contexts, behaving certain ways during sex, and those messages often trigger feelings of guilt if a person is making choices that conflict with those messages. Perhaps obviously, some people feel guilty around sex sometimes when they are earnestly doing something seriously wrong: having sex without someone’s consent or against someone’s will, having sex with someone they know they shouldn’t be in other ways, doing things which are very unsafe for one or all partners, lying to partners in any way, lying to oneself, or otherwise purposefully doing someone or oneself harm, but I don’t think that’s probably what’s going on here. However, if any part of you feels like any part of what you have been doing or feeling is as wrong as any of those things, then it might be.

I’m a big Audre Lorde fangirl, and you might appreciate something she had to say about guilt, after saying she had no use for it, which was that "if it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge." I’d suggest seeing if you can’t think about it that way, and I’d agree with Lorde that’s about the only useful thing guilt has to offer anyone at all. In other words, why don’t you try transforming those feelings of guilt into a positive spark to explore what’s best and what’s needed for you based on the information those feelings provide?

There’s nothing about sex biochemically that would create feelings of guilt, upset or shame: quite the opposite, actually. Chemically, sexual arousal, mutually-wanted sexual activities and orgasm result in us mentally and physically feeling great. However, because of that chemical boost, it’s also normal, after all the happy biochemistry that is going on drops off, to feel overtired and a little low, kind of like how we can feel a few hours after a big workout or an exciting event.

It is also common to feel exposed or very vulnerable with partnered sex, which is what you seem to be expressing when you say you feel ashamed of letting go of yourself. Now, unless you’re saying that to express letting go of your values, I interpret that the way people often seem to mean it when they’re talking about it in sex. When we’re turned on, when we are doing things sexually, when we experience pleasure, when we orgasm we do let ourselves go in some respects: that’s part of what makes intimacy intimate, after all, and that’s part of what makes sex pleasurable and exciting. We stop thinking about what we look like, what a partner might think of us, how we’re supposed to behave in other settings. We go with the flow of our feelings and impulses, even if they look or feel a little strange or silly to us. We trust the other person we’re with to be accepting of our sexual self. This isn’t a way we probably behave with just anyone, or in any setting, and it’s part of what makes sex special. But feeling that vulnerable and that seen — in addition to potentially seeing or experiencing yourself in a different way than is familiar to you — can really stir things up for people. There is nothing wrong with feeling stirred, sad, confused or upset around any kind of sex you have. The idea that everyone flops over after every incident of any kind of sex smiling and laughing, casually lighting a smoke and then heading out on their merry way, all la-di-da is hooey: sex can, and often does, create a whole range of feelings for people. Sometimes, sex with a partner will leave one or both of us shaken, or stir up feelings of sadness, worry or insecurity. Sometimes some part of sex or how we respond to it might even scare the living daylights out of us. The trick is to learn to share those responses, rather than to bottle or internalize them.

I do think we should also consider that it’s possible, especially if things once everything else I have addressed here is already taken care of, or doesn’t feel like it applies to you, that your intense emotions around this are because this is new, and because, by all means, partnered sex and intimacy can be intense and scary as hell in many ways, even when we remove the usual fear-factors we hear and talk about like fears around possible partner violence, pregnancy or sexually transmitted illness. Really opening up to someone else, sexually and otherwise, really starting to explore your own sexuality and sexual responses, especially with another person, are really big deals.
Finally, if you find that despite all of this, and after some time and any adjustments you need to make, these feelings still linger, my suggestion would be to consider seeking out a therapist or counselor to help you work through them. Sometimes, guilt or shame around sex can be so strong and pervasive, no matter what a person tries to do, that the bast tactic is to find an intensive, one-on-one helper and guide to help you get to where it’s coming from and work through it.

Here are a few links I hope will give you a little more good food for thought to take on the road with you:

10 of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Sexual Self (at Any Age)

Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist

Be a Blabbermouth! The Whats, Whys and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner

Safer Sex…for Your Heart

An Immodest Proposal

Analysis Human Rights

From Protected Class to High-Priority Target: How the ‘System Is Rigged’ Against Unaccompanied Migrant Children

Tina Vasquez

Vulnerable, undocumented youth who pose no real threat are being stripped of their right to an education and instead sit in detention awaiting deportation.

This is the first article in Rewire’s two-part series about the U.S. immigration system’s effects on unaccompanied children.

Earlier this month, three North Carolina high school students were released from a Lumpkin, Georgia, detention center after spending more than six months awaiting what seemed like their inevitable fate: deportation back to conditions in Central America that threatened their lives.

Wildin David Guillen Acosta, Josue Alexander Soriano Cortez, and Yefri Sorto-Hernandez were released on bail in the span of one week, thanks to an overwhelming community effort involving pro bono attorneys and bond money. However, not everyone targeted under the same government operation has been reprieved. For example, by the time reports emerged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had detained Acosta on his way to school in Durham, North Carolina, the government agency had already quietly deported four other young people from the state, including a teenage girl from Guatemala who attended the same school.

Activated in January, that program—Operation Border Guardian—continues to affect the lives of hundreds of Central American migrants over the age of 18 who came to the United States as unaccompanied children after January 2014. Advocates believe many of those arrested under the operation are still in ICE custody.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that the goal of Operation Border Guardian is to send a message to those in Central America considering seeking asylum in the United States. But it’s not working, as Border Patrol statistics have shown. Furthermore, vulnerable, undocumented youth who pose no real threat are being stripped of their right to an education and instead sit in detention awaiting deportation. These youth arrived at the border in hopes of qualifying for asylum, but were unable to succeed in an immigration system that seems rigged against them.

“The laws are really complicated and [young people] don’t have the community support to navigate this really hostile, complex system. That infrastructure isn’t there and unless we support asylum seekers and other immigrants in this part of the country, we’ll continue to see asylum seekers and former unaccompanied minors receive their deportation orders,” said Julie Mao, the enforcement fellow at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

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“A Grossly Misnamed” Operation

In January, ICE conducted a series of raids that spanned three southern states—Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas—targeting Central American asylum seekers. The raids occurred under the orders of Johnson, who has taken a hardline stance against the more than 100,000 families who have sought asylum in the United States. These families fled deadly gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in recent years. In El Salvador, in particular, over 400 children were murdered by gang members and police officers during the first three months of 2016, doubling the country’s homicide rate, which was already among the highest in the world.

ICE picked up some 121 people in the early January raids, primarily women and their young children. Advocates argue many of those arrested were detained unlawfully, because as people who experienced severe trauma and exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and depression, they were disabled as defined under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and ICE did not provide reasonable accommodations to ensure disabled people were not denied meaningful access to benefits or services.

Just a few weeks later, on January 23, ICE expanded the raids’ focus to include teenagers under Operation Border Guardian, which advocates said represented a “new low.”

The media, too, has also criticized DHS for its seemingly senseless targeting of a population that normally would be considered refugees. The New York Times called Operation Border Guardian “a grossly misnamed immigration-enforcement surge that went after people this country did not need to guard against.”

In response to questions about its prioritization of former unaccompanied minors, an ICE spokesperson told Rewire in an emailed statement: “As the secretary has stated repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration. If someone was apprehended at the border, has been ordered removed by an immigration court, has no pending appeal, and does not qualify for asylum or other relief from removal under our laws, he or she must be sent home. We must and we will enforce the law in accordance with our enforcement priorities.”

DHS reports that 336 undocumented Central American youth have been detained in the operation. It’s not clear how many of these youth have already been deported or remain in ICE custody, as the spokesperson did not respond to that question by press time.

Acosta, Cortez, Sorto-Hernandez, and three other North Carolina teenagersSantos Geovany Padilla-Guzman, Bilmer Araeli Pujoy Juarez, Pedro Arturo Salmeron—have become known as the NC6 and the face of Operation Border Guardian, a designation they likely would have not signed up for.

Advocates estimate that thousands of deportations of low-priority migrants—those without a criminal history—occur each week. What newly arrived Central American asylum seekers like Acosta could not have known was that the federal government had been laying the groundwork for their deportations for years.

Asylum Seekers Become “High-Priority Cases”

In August 2011, the Obama administration announced it would begin reviewing immigration cases individually, allowing ICE to focus its resources on “high-priority cases.” The assumption was that those who pose a threat to public safety, for example, would constitute the administration’s highest priority, not asylum-seeking high school students.

But there was an indication from DHS that asylum-seeking students would eventually be targeted and considered high-priority. After Obama’s announcement, ICE released a statement outlining who would constitute its “highest priorities,” saying, “Specifically individuals who pose a threat to public safety such as criminal aliens and national security threats, as well as repeat immigration law violators and recent border entrants.”

In the years since, President Obama has repeatedly said “recent border crossers” are among the nation’s “highest priorities” for removal—on par with national security threats. Those targeted would be migrants with final orders of removal who, according to the administration, had received their day in court and had no more legal avenues left to seek protection. But, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported, “recent border entrant” is a murky topic, and it doesn’t appear as if all cases are being reviewed individually as President Obama said they would.

“Recent border entrant” can apply to someone who has been living in the United States for three years, and a border removal applies “whenever ICE deports an individual within three years of entry—regardless of whether the initial entry was authorized—or whenever an individual is apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” explained Thomas Homan, the head of ICE’s removal operations in a 2013 hearing with Congress, the ACLU reported.

Chris Rickerd, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, added that “[b]ecause CBP refuses to screen the individuals it apprehends for their ties to the U.S., and DHS overuses procedures that bypass deportation hearings before a judge, many ‘border removals’ are never fully assessed to determine whether they have a legal right to stay.”

Over the years, DHS has only ramped up the department’s efforts to deport newly arrived immigrants, mostly from Central America. As the Los Angeles Times reported, these deportations are “an attempt by U.S. immigration officials to send a message of deterrence to Central America and avoid a repeat of the 2014 crisis when tens of thousands of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala arrived at the U.S. border.”

This is something Mao takes great issue with.

“These raids that we keep seeing are being done in order to deter another wave of children from seeking asylum—and that is not a permissible reason,” Mao said. “You deport people based on legality, not as a way of scaring others. Our country, in this political moment, is terrorizing young asylum seekers as a way of deterring others from presenting themselves at the border, and it’s pretty egregious.”

There is a direct correlation between surges of violence in the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and an uptick in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the United States. El Salvador, known as the murder capital of the word, recently saw an explosion of gang violence. Combine that with the possible re-emergence of so-called death squads and it’s clear why the number of Salvadoran family units apprehended on the southern border increased by 96 percent from 2015 to 2016, as Fusion reported.

Much like Mao, Elisa Benitez, co-founder of the immigrants rights’ organization Alerta Migratoria NC, believes undocumented youth are being targeted needlessly.

“They should be [considered] low-priority just because they’re kids, but immigration is classifying them at a very high level, meaning ICE is operating like this is a population that needs to be arrested ASAP,” Benitez said.

The Plight of Unaccompanied Children

Each member of the NC6 arrived in the United States as an unaccompanied child fleeing violence in their countries of origin. Acosta, for example, was threatened by gangs in his native Honduras and feared for his life. These young people should qualify as refugees based on those circumstances under international law. In the United States, after they present themselves at the border, they have to prove to an immigration judge they have a valid asylum claim—something advocates say is nearly impossible for a child to do with no understanding of the immigration system and, often, with no access to legal counsel—or they face deportation.

Unaccompanied children, if not immediately deported, have certain protections once in the United States. For example, they cannot be placed into expedited removal proceedings. According to the American Immigration Council, “they are placed into standard removal proceedings in immigration court. CBP must transfer custody of these children to Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), within 72 hours.”

While their court proceedings move forward, HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement manages the care of the children until they can ideally be released to their parents already based in the country. Sometimes, however, they are placed with distant relatives or U.S. sponsors. Because HHS has lowered its safety standards regarding placement, children have been subjected to sexual abuse, labor trafficking, and severe physical abuse and neglect, ThinkProgress has reported.

If while in the care of their family or a sponsor they miss a court date, detainment or deportation can be triggered once they turn 18 and no longer qualify for protections afforded to unaccompanied children. 

This is what happened to Acosta, who was placed with his mother in Durham when he arrived in the United States. ICE contends that Acosta was not targeted unfairly; rather, his missed court appearance triggered his order for removal.

Acosta’s mother told local media that after attending his first court date, Acosta “skipped subsequent ones on the advice of an attorney who told him he didn’t stand a chance.”

“That’s not true, but it’s what they were told,” Benitez said. “So, this idea that all of these kids were given their day in court is false. One kid [we work with] was even told not to sign up for school because ‘there was no point,’ it would just get him deported.”

Benitez told Rewire the reasons why these young people are being targeted and given their final orders of removal need to be re-examined.

Sixty percent of youth from Central America do not ever have access to legal representation throughout the course of their case—from the time they arrive in the United States and are designated as unaccompanied children to the time they turn 18 and are classified as asylum seekers. According to the ACLU, 44 percent of the 23,000 unaccompanied children who were required to attend immigration court this year had no lawyer, and 86 percent of those children were deported.

Immigration attorneys and advocates say that having a lawyer is absolutely necessary if a migrant is to have any chance of winning an asylum claim.

Mao told Rewire that in the Southeast where Acosta and the other members of the NC6 are from, there is a pipeline of youth who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied children who are simply “giving up” on their valid asylum claims because navigating the immigration system is simply too hard.

“They feel the system is rigged, and it is rigged,” Mao said.

Mao has been providing “technical assistance” for Acosta and other members of the NC6. Her organization doesn’t represent individuals in court, she said, but the services it provides are necessary because immigration is such a unique area of law and there are very few attorneys who know how to represent individuals who are detained and who have been designated unaccompanied minors. Those services include providing support, referrals, and technical assistance to advocates, community organizations, and families on deportation defense and custody issues.

Fighting for Asylum From Detention

Once arrested by ICE, there is no telling if someone will linger in detention for months or swiftly be deported. What is known is that if a migrant is taken by ICE in North Carolina, somewhere along the way, they will be transferred to Lumpkin, Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center. As a local paper reported, Stewart is “the last stop before they send you back to whatever country you came from.”

Stewart is the largest detention center in the country, capable of holding 2,000 migrants at any time—it’s also been the subject of numerous investigations because of reports of abuse and inadequate medical care. The detention center is run by Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison provider and one that has become synonymous with maintaining inhumane conditions inside of its detention centers. According to a report from the National Immigrant Justice Center, Stewart’s remote location—over two hours away from Atlanta—hinders the facility from attracting and retaining adequate medical staff, while also creating barriers to visitation from attorneys and family members.

There’s also the matter of Georgia being notoriously tough on asylum seekers, even being called the “worst” place to be an undocumented immigrant. The Huffington Post reported that “Atlanta immigration judges have been accused of bullying children, badgering domestic violence victims and setting standards for relief and asylum that lawyers say are next to impossible to meet.” Even more disconcerting, according to a project by Migrahack, which pairs immigration reporters and hackers together, having an attorney in Georgia had almost no effect on whether or not a person won their asylum case, with state courts denying up to 98 percent of asylum requests. 

Acosta, Cortez, and Sorto-Hernandez spent over six months in Stewart Detention Center before they were released on baila “miracle” according to some accounts, given the fact that only about 5 percent of those detained in Stewart are released on bond.

In the weeks after ICE transferred Acosta to Stewart, there were multiple times Acosta was on the verge of deportation. ICE repeatedly denied Acosta was in danger, but advocates say they had little reason to believe the agency. Previous cases have made them wary of such claims.

Advocates believe that three of the North Carolina teens who were deported earlier this year before Acosta’s case made headlines were kept in detention for months with the goal of wearing them down so that they would sign their own deportation orders despite having valid asylum claims.

“They were tired. They couldn’t handle being in detention. They broke down and as much as they feared being returned to their home countries, they just couldn’t handle being there [in detention] anymore. They’d already been there for weeks,” Benitez said.

While ICE claims the average stay of a migrant in Stewart Detention Center is 30 days, the detention center is notorious for excessively long detainments. Acosta’s own bunkmate had been there over a year, according to Indy Week reporter David Hudnall.

As Hudnall reported, there is a massive backlog of immigration cases in the system—474,000 nationally and over 5,000 in North Carolina.

Mao told Rewire that the amount of time the remaining members of the NC6 will spend in detention varies because of different legal processes, but that it’s not unusual for young people with very strong asylum cases to sign their rights away because they can’t sustain the conditions inside detention.

Pedro Arturo Salmeron, another NC6 member, is still in detention. He was almost deported, but Mao told Rewire her organization was able to support a pro bono attorney in appealing to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to stop proceedings.

Japeth Matemu, an immigration attorney, recently told Indy Week’s David Hudnall that “the BIA will tell you that it can’t modify the immigration judge’s ruling unless it’s an egregious or obvious miscarriage of justice. You basically have to prove the judge is off his rocker.”

It could take another four months in detention to appeal Salmeron’s case because ICE continues to refuse to release him, according to the legal fellow.

“That’s a low estimate. It could be another year in detention before there is any movement in his case. We as an organization feel that is egregious to detain someone while their case is pending,” Mao said. “We have to keep in mind that these are kids, and some of these kids can’t survive the conditions of adult prison.”

Detention centers operate as prisons do, with those detained being placed in handcuffs and shackles, being stripped of their personal belongings, with no ability to move around freely. One of Acosta’s teachers told Rewire he wasn’t even able to receive his homework in detention.

Many of those in detention centers have experienced trauma. Multiple studies confirm that “detention has a profoundly negative impact on young people’s mental and physical well-being” and in the particular case of asylum seekers, detention may exacerbate their trauma and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“People are so traumatized by the raids, and then you add detention on top of that. Some of these kids cannot psychologically and physically deal with the conditions in detention, so they waive their rights,” Mao said.

In March, Salmeron and fellow NC6 member Yefri Sorto-Hernandez received stays of deportation, meaning they would not face immediate deportation. ICE says a stay is like a “legal pause.” During the pause, immigration officials decide if evidence in the case will be reconsidered for asylum. Sorto-Hernandez was released five months later.

Benitez said that previously when she organized around detention, a stay of deportation meant the person would get released from detention, but ICE’s decision to detain some of the NC6 indefinitely until their cases are heard illustrates how “weirdly severe” the agency is being toward this particular population. Mao fears this is a tactic being used by ICE to break down young people in detention.

“ICE knows it will take months, and frankly up to a year, for some of these motions to go through the court system, but the agency is still refusing to release individuals. I can’t help but think it’s with the intention that these kids will give up their claims while suffering in detention,” Mao said.

“I think we really have to question that, why keep these young people locked up when they can be with their communities, with their families, going to school? ICE can release these kids now, but for showmanship, ICE is refusing to let them go. Is this who we want to be, is this the message we want to send the world?” she asked.

In the seven months since the announcement of Operation Border Guardian, DHS has remained quiet about whether or not there will be more raids on young Central American asylum seekers. As a new school year approaches, advocates fear that even more students will be receiving their orders for removal, and unlike the NC6, they may not have a community to rally around them, putting them at risk of quietly being deported and not heard from again.

Culture & Conversation Family

‘Abortion and Parenting Needs Can Coexist’: A Q&A With Parker Dockray

Carole Joffe

"Why should someone have to go to one place for abortion care or funding, and to another place—one that is often anti-abortion—to get diapers and parenting resources? Why can’t they find that support all in one place?"

In May 2015, the longstanding and well-regarded pregnancy support talkline Backline launched a new venture. The Oakland-based organization opened All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center, a Bloomington, Indiana, drop-in center that offers adoption information, abortion referrals, and parenting support. Its mission: to break down silos and show that it is possible to support all options and all families under one roof—even in red-state Indiana, where Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence signed one of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion laws.

To be sure, All-Options is hardly the first organization to point out the overlap between women terminating pregnancies and those continuing them. For years, the reproductive justice movement has insisted that the defense of abortion must be linked to a larger human rights framework that assures that all women have the right to have children and supportive conditions in which to parent them. More than 20 years ago, Rachel Atkins, then the director of the Vermont Women’s Center, famously described for a New York Times reporter the women in the center’s waiting room: “The country really suffers from thinking that there are two different kinds of women—women who have abortions and women who have babies. They’re the same women at different times.”

While this concept of linking the needs of all pregnant women—not just those seeking an abortion—is not new, there are actually remarkably few agencies that have put this insight into practice. So, more than a year after All-Options’ opening, Rewire checked in with Backline Executive Director Parker Dockray about the All-Options philosophy, the center’s local impact, and what others might consider if they are interested in creating similar programs.

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Rewire: What led you and Shelly Dodson (All-Options’ on-site director and an Indiana native) to create this organization?

PD: In both politics and practice, abortion is so often isolated and separated from other reproductive experiences. It’s incredibly hard to find organizations that provide parenting or pregnancy loss support, for example, and are also comfortable and competent in supporting people around abortion.

On the flip side, many abortion or family planning organizations don’t provide much support for women who want to continue a pregnancy or parents who are struggling to make ends meet. And yet we know that 60 percent of women having an abortion already have at least one child; in our daily lives, these issues are fundamentally connected. So why should someone have to go to one place for abortion care or funding, and to another place—one that is often anti-abortion—to get diapers and parenting resources? Why can’t they find that support all in one place? That’s what All-Options is about.

We see the All-Options model as a game-changer not only for clients, but also for volunteers and community supporters. All-Options allows us to transcend the stale pro-choice/pro-life debate and invites people to be curious and compassionate about how abortion and parenting needs can coexist .… Our hope is that All-Options can be a catalyst for reproductive justice and help to build a movement that truly supports people in all their options and experiences.

Rewire: What has been the experience of your first year of operations?

PD: We’ve been blown away with the response from clients, volunteers, donors, and partner organizations …. In the past year, we’ve seen close to 600 people for 2,400 total visits. Most people initially come to All-Options—and keep coming back—for diapers and other parenting support. But we’ve also provided hundreds of free pregnancy tests, thousands of condoms, and more than $20,000 in abortion funding.

Our Hoosier Abortion Fund is the only community-based, statewide fund in Indiana and the first to join the National Network of Abortion Funds. So far, we’ve been able to support 60 people in accessing abortion care in Indiana or neighboring states by contributing to their medical care or transportation expenses.

Rewire: Explain some more about the centrality of diaper giveaways in your program.

PD: Diaper need is one of the most prevalent yet invisible forms of poverty. Even though we knew that in theory, seeing so many families who are struggling to provide adequate diapers for their children has been heartbreaking. Many people are surprised to learn that federal programs like [the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC] and food stamps can’t be used to pay for diapers. And most places that distribute diapers, including crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), only give out five to ten diapers per week.

All-Options follows the recommendation of the National Diaper Bank Network in giving families a full pack of diapers each week. We’ve given out more than 4,000 packs (150,000 diapers) this year—and we still have 80 families on our waiting list! Trying to address this overwhelming need in a sustainable way is one of our biggest challenges.

Rewire: What kind of reception has All-Options had in the community? Have there been negative encounters with anti-choice groups?

PD: Diapers and abortion funding are the two pillars of our work. But diapers have been a critical entry point for us. We’ve gotten support and donations from local restaurants, elected officials, and sororities at Indiana University. We’ve been covered in the local press. Even the local CPC refers people to us for diapers! So it’s been an important way to build trust and visibility in the community because we are meeting a concrete need for local families.

While All-Options hasn’t necessarily become allies with places that are actively anti-abortion, we do get lots of referrals from places I might describe as “abortion-agnostic”—food banks, domestic violence agencies, or homeless shelters that do not have a position on abortion per se, but they want their clients to get nonjudgmental support for all their options and needs.

As we gain visibility and expand to new places, we know we may see more opposition. A few of our clients have expressed disapproval about our support of abortion, but more often they are surprised and curious. It’s just so unusual to find a place that offers you free diapers, baby clothes, condoms, and abortion referrals.

Rewire: What advice would you give to others who are interested in opening such an “all-options” venture in a conservative state?

PD: We are in a planning process right now to figure out how to best replicate and expand the centers starting in 2017. We know we want to open another center or two (or three), but a big part of our plan will be providing a toolkit and other resources to help people use the all-options approach.

The best advice we have is to start where you are. Who else is already doing this work locally, and how can you work together? If you are an abortion fund or clinic, how can you also support the parenting needs of the women you serve? Is there a diaper bank in your area that you could refer to or partner with? Could you give out new baby packages for people who are continuing a pregnancy or have a WIC eligibility worker on-site once a month? If you are involved with a childbirth or parenting organization, can you build a relationship with your local abortion fund?

How can you make it known that you are a safe space to discuss all options and experiences? How can you and your organization show up in your community for diaper need and abortion coverage and a living wage?

Help people connect the dots. That’s how we start to change the conversation and create support.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify the spelling of Shelly Dodson’s name.

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